Esteban Granero at Jot Down (I)
The Jot Down interview with Esteban Granero is out, and it’s a fantastic one, although there’s probably too much talk about psychology in the beginning, which made translating the interview quite tedious. It’s great to see this philosophical side of El Pirata, and once again we are reminded that he is one very special footballer, and I’m not speaking about his skills on the field. But, if you can’t be bothered to read the interview or just don’t have time, then take a look at the photos, because they are gorgeous (the whole set can be found here). I love that the interview and the photo shoot took place at the Biblioteca Nacional! Anyway, here’s the first part of the interview, just the first section, because I’ve translated enough for today and I have other things on my agenda!
A Real Madrid footballer who studies psychology. Looking back, he’s probably a mix between Pardeza, who was a philologist, and Butragueño, who did yoga, which at least made him the most flexible member of the team even though he finished last in all the physical tests. But that’s not the case of Granero. He’s tall, with a wide back, strong, potent, delicate with his assists and forceful with his shot… he’s in his fourth season without having consolidated a spot in the starting XI, but no one can disregard him either. His coach, José Mourinho, likes players with soul. And so Granero has a note scribbled next to his name, in the margin, that says he’s more than capable.
We meet in the Biblioteca Nacional (the National Library of Spain). A sneaky strategy so that he’ll be able to visit even the kitchen, which he couldn’t do the last time he came. When our guide smiles and says this is the first time that a footballer has shown any interest in this place, Granero retorts, “and firefighters, do they come often?” He’s not comfortable with the typical stereotype of a footballer, but even less so with that of a cultured philosopher who doesn’t exactly fit in this sport. This boy transmits the sensation that for good or for bad, he only has confidence in what his own mind says.
He concentrates before answering Jot Down’s questions. He doesn’t mind the discomfort of silence during an interview. He thinks a lot, he deliberates what he says. He’s precise with his language. He doesn’t dodge the issues, he comes straight to the point. This is how the encounter went.
One of the first psychologists in football history, if not the first, is the one that Brazil brought to the 1958 World Cup. This doctor compiled a report in which he advised that Garrincha should not play. However, Garrincha was decisive in winning the World Cup for Brazil.
I didn’t know that. I’m sure that since he was the first, he wanted to be a protagonist. That’s typical behavior when we’re new at something and we want to make inroads. At least no one paid him any attention. But I believe more than 50 years have passed since then and things have changed a lot. There have been many psychologists who have given good advice and great advice.
The psychologists that Benito Floro brought to Real Madrid were very controversial. The first one, Emilio Cidad, designed exercises for the players where they had to imagine themselves eating fruit. He was on the cover of Marca with Butragueño swallowing an imaginary lemon. He has gone down in history for making the team recite poetry with their pants off.
I knew about the fruit. These are therapies that don’t appear to be adequate for footballers, but I’m sure there was a reason for them. In fact, there is. That of reciting poetry with their pants off is a way to get close to people. Making fun of yourself, in quotes, in front of your teammates makes you more human, helps others get closer to you. Many times, there is a certain distance between players in the locker room, and even more so in a team like Madrid, where each one comes from a different part of the world and each one has huge ambitions. This distance is bad for the team. A therapy that allows you to get closer to your teammates by making fun of yourself is important. I don’t know if it works, since I don’t have the information. Of course sometimes we are too reserved to do this type of thing or too high-handed, in the good sense of the word, and it’s difficult for us to open our arms to new things.
On that team, Prosinecki said he wouldn’t speak with a psychologist, that he was injured but not crazy. Meanwhile, Míchel had been secretly seeing Rosa Guisasola, the psychologist of the Spanish Athletics Federation.
Míchel never told me that! We believe football is a sport where not much can be done to improve, especially in the training methods and the rest, but psychology can help more than we think.
Much later, Iván Campo suffered anxiety attacks when he signed for Real Madrid. In other clubs, Gerard was afraid that he wouldn’t play at the same level as he had with Valencia when he returned to Barça; Julen Lopetegui had a crisis also while playing for Barça; Valderón suffered a frightening depression in Atlético, as did the goalkeeper Toni; Guerrero was completely stressed out during his last years with Athletic; Giner felt that he was to blame for all the goals that were scored against his team, Valencia… and we haven’t even spoken about coaches yet. Luis Aragonés had to leave three teams due to phobic anxiety; Cruyff had myocardial problems; Sacchi couldn’t handle the pressure of not being able to replicate his success with Milan…
The stressful situations that the players you mentioned suffered are very common. Around 95 percent of footballers playing at a high level have these problems. I’ve had them many times. It’s natural, this sport is very demanding. It demands a lot out of you on many fronts. In addition, footballers are also treated as idols, they’re made responsible for the education of children. And then you have to perform well on the field, where you can’t make many mistakes because we’re playing at a very high level. This atmosphere creates a stressful situation in which some things explode and in other cases explode less, but we all have these problems. It’s very rare to find someone who hasn’t gone through this. You can even have all of the problems you mentioned at the same time. There are players who can handle them better than others and others who lose control of the situation.
Rosana Llames, Sporting’s psychologist in the beginning of the 1990s, said it was fundamental for her job to know about football.
Of course, you can be a great strategist but not a good coach, the same with soldiers, it’s a similar case. The psychological problems that a person can have in life and those of a footballer, when it comes to intensity and precision, have little to do with each other. That’s why the more a psychologist knows about football, the better. If he or she has been a footballer or has played a team sport such as basketball, it can also work, as the problems will be familiar to them and they can identify them better.
Madrid doesn’t have a psychologist at the moment, but there is one for the youth teams.
Until three years ago, there was one, but I’m not sure if they’re still there. I know Chema Buceta and José Beirán, who are two good psychologists. They gave talks four or five times a year, in groups or personalized for a player according to his needs. They also compiled statistics on the psychological factors of the players via tests. They measured motivation, mental fatigue, reactions during stressful situations… when you’re young and playing in the cantera, many times you feel that the team demands too much of you, along with your family, the situation, your friends… Being close to an important objective causes a lot of stress and they had to control it. They also studied reactions to adverse situations and positive moments. They identified how to analyze a situation and how to react. They helped us learn how to distinguish between things.
Many media outlets ridicule the use of psychologists in football, but the 1992 Olympic team had one, José Lorenzo González, and later on Luis Aragonés also used him (during the 2006 World Cup). Both teams ended up being championship teams [but… the Spanish team did not win the 2006 World Cup!]…
I don’t think there’s that much of a relation. It also depends on the team. The psychologist is important for a team, but you have to know how to use him. You have to know how to choose one. For me, that is important. Just like you can improve on technique or tactics, you can also train and improve the psychological aspect. And everyone agrees that this is a determining factor in the performance of a team and of a footballer. I believe it’s important, but I don’t think a team can win just because they bring along a psychologist.
Later on, in Madrid, the fitness coach Walter di Salvo brought over a machine from Massachusetts to train the brain, the one called “Real Madrid Tec’s mental training module.” Is it still there?
Yes, I’ve tried it out. It’s not in operation anymore. I only tried it out out of curiosity. I don’t know how it functions. It was used to increase or decrease your mental activation through sounds and images on a screen.
However, there are footballers who are like maracas. In this case, can we say that being crazy or having an excessive personality, or even an unbalanced one, can help in the practice of football?
Yes, of course. I don’t believe this type of footballer can be any other way. In other words, there’s no good kid version of Balotelli. That possibility doesn’t exist. He, at the age of 25, can’t do a lot to change. In addition, there is a temperament that comes from the genes. I’m not saying that being this way makes one a better footballer, or that not being like that will make you the best. We couldn’t expect Mágico González to go to bed at 10 at night, getting up, having breakfast, going to the game… that person doesn’t exist. We have to enjoy him as he was: a phenomenon. It’s the same with George Best or Maradona… should they have taken better care of themselves? For what reason? Enjoy what you see, what you have in front of you. End of story.
Mijatovic said that you couldn’t handle the psychological pressure of being on the first team.
He’s said so many things that… but it’s curious because he gave me my first contract with the first team. I don’t know if it’s something that occurred to Pedja later on, but I’m still here. And improving, to tell you the truth. And I don’t think this is my problem. In fact, I believe it’s one of my strong points: being able to handle pressure well and rise above that situation of being a canterano, someone who knows that each year the best players in the world are going to come to fight for your position and that you have to make a space for yourself on the team. I’ve been here for three years, now I’m beginning the fourth year, and I want to be here for many more. I believe up to now I’ve performed well and I believe I have a lot left to give. Pressure is not a problem for me.
How are your psychology studies going?
I’m doing it bit by bit, with no rush and enjoying it. My first year in Complutense was great, but due to the scheduling and according to how my football career developed, I had to transfer to a private university. In this way, I was more comfortable when it came to exams and things like that, but I have good memories of La Complu. I enrolled in many classes there my first year and I made many friends, it was a good year.
As an “almost psychologist,” do you believe anyone around you is worth studying?
I believe football is a school. Real Madrid is a much more important school than any university psychology department when it comes to giving psychological advice for football. I’ve received a lot of advice from many teammates that have helped me. From Casillas, Raúl, Guti, people who have been here for many years. They’ve had to face many more problems than those who graduate with a degree in psychology. I look up to them. And now I look up to Xabi, to see how he resolves difficulties. I admire him a lot in this sense. I also admire Cristiano Ronaldo for the ambition he has, how he behaves when he’s at the summit of the mountain and it appears he can’t get any higher, how he finds another path to climb even higher.
To be continued…